During his State of the Union Address, President Obama focused on how the United States can “win the future.” The “first step,” he declared, “is encouraging American innovation.”
One of the leading Republicans in Congress, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), appeared on the G. Gordon Liddy Show yesterday and discussed this notion of an “innovation economy.” After Liddy peddled the ludicrous claim that House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) had implemented a ban on incandescent light bulbs in the United States, McCotter used the opportunity to scoff at liberal efforts to improve the incandescent light bulb, a product that was first invented over 200 years ago. He called the irony “striking” that liberals would “prais[e] the end of the incandescent bulb at the very time they’re talking about an innovation economy”:
LIDDY: Is there any chance that you fellas can talk to [House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred] Upton and get our light bulbs back, for heaven’s sake?
McCOTTER: Yes, yes. I saw that some on the left were praising the end of the incandescent bulb, at the very time they’re talking about an innovation economy. The irony is striking. One of the greatest innovations in American history was the incandescent bulb and I think we got to put it back where people can use them again.
The smaller point here is that, as Brad Johnson of ThinkProgress writes, “there was, in fact, no bill to ban incandescent light bulbs,” despite Liddy’s insistence to the contrary.
The larger point, however, is that McCotter’s idea of “innovation” in the 21st century is holding on to a 19th-century product with an iron grip. McCotter is undoubtedly correct that the incandescent bulb was “one of the greatest innovations in American history.” But the entire premise of innovation is that we keep improving instead of resting on our laurels. That’s precisely what is happening with modern upgrades to the incandescent light bulb. The New York Times reported last year that “the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation.”
McCotter’s insistence that America’s best light bulb innovations came in the 19th century is troubling enough. It’s unclear if McCotter would also prefer the country revert back to typewriters and telegraphs.